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Investigating Plagiarism in New Age Books

Online Extras

Ben Radford

June 20, 2013

I recently uncovered rampant plagiarism in a HarperCollins title The Element Encyclopedia of Vampires: An A–Z of the Undead, “written” (more accurately “cut-and-pasted-from-the-Internet”) by Theresa Cheung. The full article on my investigation appears in the current (July/August 2013) issue of Skeptical Inquirer, on newsstands now. I included how I discovered it, my findings, and the publisher’s response, as well as several examples of the plagiarism in Cheung’s book, but there was not enough space in the magazine to print all, or even most, of the cases I found. What follows are more examples.

Example 1: Gelnhausen entry (pp. 252–253)

Virtually all of Cheung’s material appears to have been plagiarized nearly verbatim from the book The Natural History of the Vampire, by Anthony Masters (1972), via the website http://www.shroudeater.com/cgelnh.htm.

Here is the original, written by Masters (1972):

“To put an end to her torture she finally confessed to all these crimes, but no sooner had she been taken off the rack, she claimed to be innocent. So she was tortured again until she made the following confession: ‘For the last forty years she had fornicated with countless devils that had visited her in the shape of cats, dogs, fleas and worms; that she had murdered over two hundred and forty people; had given birth to about seventeen children conceived by her devil lovers, had murdered them, eaten them and drunk their blood. This time, Clara had no chance to retract her confession, because she died when she was taken off the rack.... The judicial report concluded: ‘The devil would not let her reveal anything more and so wrung her neck.’ On August 23, 1597, her corpse was burned.”

Here is the entry as written by Cheung (2010):

Cheung: “She was tortured in the most ghastly manner in order to get her to confess, but no sooner had she been taken off the rack she claimed to be innocent. So she was tortured again until she had confessed to consorting with the Devil, who visited her in the shape of cats, dogs, and worms. She also confessed to giving birth to somewhere in the region of 17 children (the exact number is unclear) conceived with her devil lovers, murdering them, and drinking their blood. This time, Clara had no chance to retract her confession, because she died when she was taken off the rack. The judicial report concluded: ‘The devil would not let her reveal anything more and so wrung her neck.’ On August 23, 1597, her corpse was burned.”

Example 2: Goths entry (pp. 264–265)

This entry seems to have been plagiarized near-verbatim from the website Answers.com: http://www.answers.com/topic/gothic-8#ixzz1EFfQu4BM

Here is the original as it appears on the website:

A: “the gothic counter-cultural movement that appeared in most urban centers of the West during the 1980s. The movement’s origins can be traced to late 1970s musical groups in the United Kingdom . It certainly also had its direct precursors in such bands as Black Sabbath and the punk rock music of the 1970s. Possibly the most prominent of those groups was Bauhaus, a rock band formed in 1978. In the following year, the band released the single “Bela Lugosi's Dead,” their most popular recording to date. The song was picked up in 1983 for use in the opening sequence of the film version of Whitley Strieber's The Hunger. Bauhaus was soon joined by such groups as Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cult, The Cure, and The Sisters of Mercy. Together these bands created a variant music called gothic rock or death rock. A circuit of music clubs, most notably The Bat Cave in London, opened to provide a stage for their performances.”

Here is the entry as written by Cheung (2010):

B. “The word ‘Goth’ was applied to adherents of a counter-cultural movement that appeared in most urban centers in the West in the 1980s. The origins of the Goth movement can be traced back to bands and nightclubs in the United Kingdom during the waning years of the punk movement in the late 1970s. Perhaps the most significant of these bands was Bauhaus, a gothic rock band formed in 1978 who released in 1979 the single ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead.’ Bauhaus was joined by other bands including: The Cult, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, and Siouxsie and the Banshees who often played in a London nightclub aptly named The Bat Cave.”

Example 3: Ekimmu entry (pp. 207–208)

This entry seems to have been plagiarized from Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s book The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters (2005):

1A: “In Babylonian and Assyrian demonology, the restless spirit of the dead that is denied entry to the underworld, and so is doomed to prowl the earth.” (Guiley 2005, 117)

1B: “Found among the ancient Assyrians and Sumerians, the ekimmu were vampire-like creatures believed to be the restless spirits or souls of dead people denied entry to the underworld and so doomed to wander the earth forever....” (Cheung 2010, 207)

2A: “Ekimmu means ‘that which is snatched away.’ One became an ekimmu by dying a violent or unsavory death, such as by murder, in battle, drowning, or succumbing to exposure in the desert, which left the corpse unburied. An ekimmu also is created due to lack of burial, improper burial, and lack of proper attention by the living, especially concerning the leaving of food and liquids intended to sustain the spirit on its journey to the underworld.” (Guiley 2005, 117)

2B: “Ekimmu means ‘that which is snatched away,’ and there were a number of ways that a corpse could become an ekimmu, including violent death; incorrect burial rites or no burial at all; lack of proper attention to the dead by the living, especially concerning the leaving of food and drink to sustain the spirit on its journey to the underworld” (Cheung 2010, 207)

Example 4: Strigoii entry (p. 560)

Cheung has also apparently copied some of her entry on the Strigoii from this webpage: http://www.mythicalcreaturesguide.com/page/The+Strigoii (accessed March 4, 2011)

1A: “The Strigoii might drink blood, but more often they ate normal food (as did the Moroii). However, rather than drinking blood or vital fluids, they could draw the energy from another person by a kind of osmosis, leaving them weak and sickly and helpless. Besides attacking people, the Strigoii spread disease...” (Mystical Creatures Guide)

1B: “The strigoii could drink blood but more often than not they preferred to eat normal food. However, rather than drinking blood or other vital fluids, they could draw energy from a person by a kind of osmosis, leaving them weak and helpless. As well as attacking people they could spread disease.” (Cheung 2010, 560)

Join the investigation!

If you would like to join this investigation, get a copy of The Element Encyclopedia of Vampires: An A–Z of the Undead (either used or from a library if you wish), and choose three or four random entries. Pick a dozen potentially unique or rare phrases or short sentences from the entry, and then enter them in an Internet search. If you find a match, see if the words and sentences before and after it were also copied, and if they are, carefully note the source and URL. Participants can e-mail me at bradford@centerforinquiry.net with their findings.

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Benjamin Radford, M.Ed., is a scientific paranormal investigator, a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author or co-author of seven books and over a thousand articles on skepticism, critical thinking, and science literacy. His newest book is Mysterious New Mexico: Miracles, Magic, and Monsters in the Land of Enchantment. Radford is also a columnist for Discovery News and LiveScience.com.